Shadow Magic: An Interview with Tiffany Lei

written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)

This year at Anime Revolution, I had the esteemed pleasure to meet Tiffany at her booth while running around the show floor. Promoting an ambitious project, an independently produced animated show with some serious Anime DNA.

It intrigued me, so I sought Tiffany out to hear more about the project, so for our fans we have this interview plus an exclusive animatic... seen here on Lifted Geek first! So let's go and get into it.

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Lifted Geek: Sup g33ks, I'm here with Tiffany Lei, the founder of KAGE Productions and the producer, director, and animator for Shadow Magic, an exciting animation project in Vancouver B.C. Tiffany, briefly, tell our friends & fans what to expect with Shadow Magic? 

Tiffany Lei: Hi Everyone! Shadow Magic is a 2D animated pilot episode in "anime style" being made right here in North America. Vancouver, BC, specifically. I know, I know- I can practically see your cringing faces- but please do take a look at our campaign before making any judgement calls lol. 

Shadow Magic is about a girl who is lost in the world of MMORPGs until she's given the chance to become a fantasty character in real life according to an ancient contract with Atlantis. She discovers all too soon that real life and fantasy are very different and the consequences are permanent. 

We're taking what we feel are the best techniques from both eastern and western animation and applying them to our pilot. The story is action-centric with a deep plot line and complex characters. 

We've also just the other day received interest from the fantastic composer of Tokyo Ghoul's sound track, Yutaka Yamada. If- and only if, we reach our funding goals, can we have the opportunity to follow through and bring him on board with Shadow Magic. 

LG: Of course this isn't just a one woman show, who else is helping bring this vision to life? 

TL: Myself and my small team have been working in the animation, games and comics industries here in Vancouver since 2001. Some of our credits include Disney, DHX Media, United Front Games, DeNA Games, BigBadBoo and many more. 

I've been working with these friends and colleagues for many years and we have a shared passion for 2D animation and of course, anime. We want to create a place where the amazing anime and manga artists of North America can come to, to do what they love for a living. 

LG: Via your Kickstarter, it shows that you've already cast Yuri Lowenthal and Vic Mignogna, these are some heavy hitters in the voice acting game... how did you get linked up with them? 

TL: Yeah! They're both awesome! Oh, it's nothing complicated or secretive. All I did was send them an email with a short 'pitch' and expressed my interest to have them as part of our cast! I didn't expect a reply at all, but you never know until you try. 

LG: Who are some of your favorite voice actors you hope to bring on board for this project? 

TL: Oh that's a hard one! To be honest, I hadn't even given it much thought until the last year or so. After listening to many demo reels and a few dubs (I'm a chronic sub-watcher lol), I was super impressed with Laura Bailey's work. She would be a dead-ringer for the protagonist of Shadow Magic, Avery. Since Avery goes through some dramatic changes, Laura's versatility would be amazing!

LG: I love Laura Bailey! She'll be perfect! So how did Shadow Magic come to be? What was the moment where you realized you wanted to take on such an ambitious project? 

TL: It's kind of a long story, but I'll do my best to keep it simple xD. The origin behind Shadow Magic literally began with a dream I had when I was 3. It involved a grim reaper and two blackbirds. The grim reaper tossed a burlap pouch to each of them and gave them the duty to watch over existence. Inside the pouches were the secrets of the universe. 

Since then, I had several chains of dreams relating to that world which eventually strung together into a more comprehensible story. Needless to say, having Shadow Magic linked to this is a lifelong journey and a very personal project. 

It wasn't until Sailor Moon aired here in Canada around 1996 or '97 when I became aware of animation from Japan and just how far it went. Obviously, I immersed myself in it and naturally, I began drawing my own manga. In order to tell the immense backstory I had dreamed, I adapted it into what it's become today. 

Ever since I was a kid, I loved 2D animation and knew one day I wanted to become an animator and work for Disney. I was always the kid who doodled in class. When I started making manga in school (circa 1997), it was another path I wanted to take and gave me even more motivation to become an animator and turn Shadow Magic into an animated series. 

After graduating from film school, I did eventually work on a Disney show called The Buzz on Maggie. My student film was also based on Shadow Magic and garnered a lot of attention at the time (2000). It was aired on YTV Canada and critiqued by a bigtime animation director. I was also featured on several news networks and the Shadow Magic short appeared in international film festivals.

In 2002-2003, I produced a 45-minute long audio drama for Shadow Magic and released it online and made it available at conventions wherever I was in the Artist Alley. This included Sakura Con in Seattle, WA and Anime Expo in LA. 

In 2005, I met the CEO of Arcana Comics at Emerald City Comicon, and subsequently he was excited to publish the 200-page Shadow Magic graphic novel only 2 and a half months later in 2006. It was available in both the US and Canada via Diamond Distribution.

LG: Your art style is very derivative of Japanese Anime, rightly so since I met you at an Anime con, going in... what were some of your inspirations when coming up with the art style of Shadow Magic? 

TL: Since the inception of Shadow Magic, it has always been imagined in an anime and manga art style. To be blunt, the way stories are told in anime and manga are how we feel Shadow Magic should be told. It's not a show for kids, but at the same time, the story offers something for almost everyone. We love the ongoing storytelling from episode to episode of anime versus the stand-alone episodic nature of western cartoons. Although I do see this changing in recent years. 

We've had to modify the art style of course to keep it up to current expectations. In the early days, I was significantly influenced by Sailor Moon, Tenchi Muyo and Slayers. All very brightly colored and stylized. More recently we've toned that down and redesigned characters to suit modern audiences- heck, they really needed the makeover x.x. 

Inspiration comes from everywhere and everything. Yes, significant amounts come from anime, but we'll never forget our roots in western animation either. 

LG: As an aside... what are your top 5 favorite anime series or movies... like, ever? 

TL: WOW. That's like... the hardest question ever!! xD;; Watch me remember something else after this is posted!!

Top 5 Anime:
-Memories
-Ghost in the Shell
-Slayers
-Tenchi Muyo
-D. Gray Man

LG: I remember when I stopped by your booth, your mom was hands down you biggest cheerleader (btw, tell her I said hi!). How important is it to you that your family is right there by your side, supporting your creative endeavor? 

TL: Ahaha yeah, my mom has been really supportive, I can't be more grateful. All parents want their kids to be successful xD. She really goes out of her way sometimes. For me, she has been an invaluable support. I wouldn't have been able to attend film school without her assistance, since I had to move from Victoria to Vancouver and student loans weren't quite enough. 

It gives me a lot more confidence to have her cheering me on, no matter what happens! I have to thank many the friends who have been here for me, just the same, as well. When you have others around you who believe in you and your work, it's the most wonderful thing.

LG: Does your mom go to alot of shows with you? 

TL: As many as she can! Lately it's getting more difficult for her since it's really exhausting. I can count on her to help me man the table and continue with her unique brand of promotion lol.

LG: She's so adorable, does she still want to adopt me? I would totally love that Canadian/US dual citizenship. 

TL: YES! She wanted me to ask you about your heritage LOL. She's always in her bright colors and easy to spot in a crowd^^;; 

LG: OH! I'm Filipino. Anyway... back to it, this project is obviously a labor of love, did you guys hit any notable snags since starting? Any that were truly memorable? 

TL: Definitely. Craploads of snags! The most memorable was when we first started pitching the show back in 2001. We had interest from broadcaster and investors- but the broadcasters wouldn't commit unless we had investors on board, and the investors wouldn't commit unless we had broadcasters on board. It was a stalemate and nobody would make the first move =(. That really deflated our momentum which basically made me bury the project until more recently.

LG: What were some of the best moments you had during this project? 

TL: I remember running around outside screaming when I got the package from YTV that they had selected my short for their show.

And I think I literally cried when I heard from Vic and Yuri <3. 

Most recently, I had such a shock while hosting an industry panel at Anime Revolution (where we met!). At the wrap-up, I introduced my studio and showed the Shadow Magic trailer. I practically closed my eyes the whole time. The moment the credits rolled, the whole room applauded earnestly =O. I totally wasn't expecting such a positive response! 

I honestly can't be more grateful for what we've achieved until now. So far the budget has been completely out of my own pocket. And because of those constraints, I've done most of the work myself in my very limited free time. 

I can only hope we can reach enough people who can help support us on KickStarter so I can finally expand the team and compensate them properly. The amount of work that goes into animation is often grossly underestimated.

LG: We'll be showcasing the pilot episode's animatic right here on our channel, what can you tell us about the animatic and what to expect with the finished project? 

TL: Our pilot episode storyboard is on its third incarnation. The first of which happened in 2004. The script has been totally thrown out and being rewritten. Back in the day, anime storytelling was pretty different. I'm SO excited that it's taken a deeper, more complex turn lately so I have the chance to tell Shadow Magic how it was meant to be told. Without all that extra fluff!! 

This animatic is from the first take of the current script. We've since revised it yet again considering some other changes we've made in the pilot to improve it. This is just a rough experiment to test our direction and the things we can do by using 3D as a tool to assist in our 2D animation. The scene where Avery is 'transforming' is an example of a camera move in 3D space where it rotates around the room. 

We want to push what we can do with this, much like how WIT Studio utilized 3D to execute action scenes in Attack on Titan. I was so impressed with the female titan forest scene, I had the opportunity to speak with the animation directors in person at Sakura Con last April. I asked them how they pulled it off. I'm happy to say, we will take thier advice to create some incredible sequences for Shadow Magic ^__-. 

I also showed them the unfinished Shadow Magic trailer lol. I was amazed they recognized it as 'full animation'. In other words, it's done at 12-24 drawings per second versus the 6-12 drawings per second rate of typical anime series. 

LG: How many designs did you go through before settling on the main character's final look? 

TL: Too many.. I've honestly lost count! Originally, Avery had black hair and was named Opal. In the last year, the supporting female character, Ayla, was completely redesigned as well. We're still working on bringing the designs up-to-date.

LG: You and your team come from some impressive pedigree, before this project, what other projects have you and your team worked on in the past? 

TL: Some of the notable titles include: Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Transformers (the animation), The Buzz on Maggie, Johnny Test, and Bob's Burgers. We've worked on a lot of stuff I'm sure no one's ever heard of. That's just how it goes at many of the studios around here.

LG: Again speaking about your team, were many of them on board since the beginning? Or did you pick them up along the way? 

TL: I'm truly blessed to have known the team members for a long time. We've worked together, we've become friends and support one another. And because we share the same dream of producing original properties, we have stuck it out for 10+ years! Our lead background artist, the lovely Cathrine Langwagen I met more recently while working together at another studio. She's been with us since 2012. It's safe to say none of us lack passion for the industry and continue striving to improve.

We've had many fans, who I'd call more friends, than fans now, who have been by our side since the beginning in 1998. It's so incredible to have such loyal support and know that they also believe in Shadow Magic's potential. 

It was these friends who finally prompted me to bring Shadow Magic back out from under the rug in 2012.

LG: Tell us a bit about you Tiffany, where did you go to school? did you always want to be an animator? what's your favorite sandwich? are you dating anyone? who are you wearing? Kardashians... yay or nay? Feel free to say whatever here... 

TL: I went to Vancouver Film School for Classical and 3D animation straight outta high school. Yup, wanted to be an animator since I was like... 6 lol. Paninis are awesome! Sorry to say I don't really keep up with tabloid stuff lol. Oh, I make Lolita accessories to sell at conventions =). These include headdresses, chokers, wrist cuffs and stuff like that. Since original artwork doesn't really sell well at cons, I've got to cover the booth fees somehow... would be great if I didn't need to do that and focus on the art. 

My favorite games are Ragnarok Online, FF6 and Chrono Trigger xD. 

I've also appeared on NHK twice. One time Morning Musume commented on my music video (I did a cover of Kumi Koda's Crazy 4 U). It won 'best music video' award in 2010 on NHK's program J-Melo. 

My studio is also working with clients to make graphic novels, animated shorts and video game assets. These take up our Monday to Friday until we can get Shadow Magic funded.

LG: So before we sign off, do you have anything you'd like to say to the g33ks, our friends & fans before calling it good? 

TL: Please, pleaaaaaaaase help us in any way you can, whether making a pledge as little as $5, and by sharing our KickStarter link on your social media channels! If enough people pitch in, anything is possible!

Let's create a place where anime artists and animators can make a living doing what they love! And don't have to go to Japan to do it ^__-. Not to mention we can create content without being limited by what a network wants. No cuts, no censors. Raw awesomeness.

And heck, we want to make stuff we ourselves, as fans, want to see, and be able to share it with the world!

For the artists out there, we're holding an art contest with cash prizes here: 
http://kage-productions.com/forums/showthread.php?tid=23&pid=55#pid55

And for the voice actors, open auditions for the Shadow Magic pilot here: http://kage-productions.com/forums/showthread.php?tid=8&pid=9#pid9

THANK YOU ALL! You're awesome!

LG: Thank you Tiffany, I really hope this becomes something... you my dear are destined for greatness.

TL: Oh man, thanks, Justin! We can only hope to make some headway. We've been fighting for a long time. 

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So there's that! Make sure to check out their Kickstarter to help promote the project! Below you'll find the exclusive first look at the animatic. Personally, I'm looking forward to great things from Tiffany and all the talented folks at KAGE Productions.